On the ballot: Calif. amends three-strike law, upholds death penalty

This article has been updated to reflect final results

Proposition 36, which reforms California’s three-strikes law, passed while voters have rejected Proposition 34, which would have eliminated the death penalty, and Proposition 37, which would have mandated the labeling of genetically-modified food. Governor Jerry Brown’s signature ballot initiative, Proposition 30, passed by near 8 percent.

Prop 30 headlined the eleven referenda on the ballot; its passage has temporarily increased income tax on individuals making over $250,000 and sales tax for all consumers. Brown, the main proponent of the proposition, maintained that the increased tax revenue is necessary to head off billions of dollars in education cuts.

“If 30 fails, K-12 education will be cut by $5 billion,” said David Plank, executive director of Policy Analysis for California Education and a professor at the School of Education. “Not fatal, but a very severe blow to public education in California. The system will go on, but it’s very difficult.”

Competing with Proposition 30 with an alternative  approach to tax revenue for education was Proposition 38, which failed by a large margin. It would have temporarily increased the state income tax for most Californians, taking the revenue and earmarking it for pre-K to grade 12 education. Because of possible cuts to Palo Alto public schools, the Palo Alto Unified School District has endorsed both propositions 30 and 38.

“[Prop] 38 was doomed from the start,” Plank said “[It was] much too complicated for the voters…two revenue propositions on the same ballot made it almost impossible to pass either one.”

The passage of proposition 36 revises the three-strikes law so that life-in-prison sentences would only apply if the third conviction were deemed “serious or violent.” California’s three-strikes law was approved in 1994.

“[Prop 36's passage] tells California citizens that it is possible to change California law but still keep California safe,” said David Mills, a professor at Stanford Law School who helped author the proposition and donated almost $1 million to secure its passage. “Hopefully, it will result in more humane sentencing.”

For Prop 36 proponent and law professor Lawrence Marshall, the proposition’s passage marks a turning point in California referenda.

“It’s been presumed that the only kind of measure that can get passed drives the book harder at criminals without any sense of proportionality,” he said. “This reform shows that California voters are prepared to recognize that we need to be sane and rational in our approach.”

Proposition 34, which eliminates the death penalty and replaces it with life in prison without parole, lost by almost six percent. The law would have applied retroactively to the 725 Californians on death row.

Proposition 37 is a complicated piece of legislation that intends to label all genetically-modified food products. However, worries about special interest loopholes and exceptions may have played a part in its rejection by voters.

“Proposition 37 is not a strong piece of legislation,” said Roz Naylor, director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment. “Most of the GM-based food that Californians eat is not covered by the labeling act, and, as a result, the labeling will be misleading to consumers.”

California voters also failed Props 31, 32 and 33, rejecting a budgetary constitutional amendment, restrictions on certain political donations and changes to car insurance regulations.

Two propositions that coasted to easy passage were Prop 35, the “Californians Against Sexual Exploitation” initiative, and Prop 40, a proposition that will keep the current California State Senate boundaries as drawn by a citizens’ commission for the 2010 redistricting cycle. Opponents of the map announced they would stop campaigning against the map in July though the referendum remained on the ballot.

The passage of Prop 35 increases prison terms for human traffickers and mandates police training on human trafficking, though the initiative does not make clear how its provisions will be funded.

About Edward Ngai

Edward Ngai is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. Previously, he has worked as a news desk editor, staff development editor and columnist. He was president and editor-in-chief of The Daily for Vol. 244 (2013-2014). Edward is a junior from Vancouver, Canada studying political science. This summer, he is the Daniel Pearl Memorial Intern at the Wall Street Journal.